“Now turn right into Mesut Ozil Street. You have reached your destination.”
Football fans would surely smile to themselves at such an instruction from their in-car navigation system, aware that Ozil is a supremely gifted footballer. Yet anyone who believes it is a far cry from reality should think again.
Stumbling upon streets or squares dedicated to footballers is not as uncommon as you might think, and it happens all over the world.
In 2012, when inaugurating a street in honour of the most expensive German international in history, Mustafa Semerci, mayor of Devrek, a Turkish town with a population of 60,000 inhabitants, declared: “He’s our son, we had to do this for him.” Ozil, incidentally, was born in Gelsenkirchen in Germany.
Just a few weeks ago the same honour was bestowed upon Sir Alex Ferguson. The street formerly known as Waters Roach, situated close to the Old Trafford stadium, now bears the name of the 71-year-old coaching icon, who retired in the summer after 27 years at the helm of Manchester United. “I’m delighted with this honour,” said Ferguson, who won over 40 domestic and international titles during his coaching career. “When I came to Manchester in 1986 I had no idea where it would take me.” One of Ferguson’s predecessors at United, Sir Matt Busby, also had a street named after him in the 1980s in honour of his services to the club.
Any homage to world football’s greats would not be complete without ‘The Special One’ Jose Mourinho. In summer this year his hometown of Setubal christened the waterside promenade Rua Saude in the city centre ‘Avenida Jose Mourinho’ in praise of his extraordinary achievements in international football.
Bundesliga side Hannover 96’s reasons for renaming a street were rather more sombre. The German club now resides as the address Robert-Enke-Strasse 1, in memory of the former international goalkeeper, whose suicide in November 2009 had an impact on thousands of people. Spain’s Antonio Puerta, who died in 2007 at the age of 22, also has a street named after him in Seville.
Last year the city of Madrid felt moved to immortalise not only a player but a whole team. In the suburb of Boadilla the local council named a street ‘Spanish National Football Team Avenue’ and called a roundabout ‘Vicente del Bosque Square’. The objective was to pay a fitting tribute to the Furia Roja’s success at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
In Mostoles, the hometown of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, the custodian not only has a street in his honour but also a commemorative stone, bearing the inscription: “I’m not a Galactico, I come from Mostoles.” Korea Republic’s Park Ji-Sung was awarded a special tribute following the 2002 World Cup in his homeland by becoming the first living South Korean player to have a street named after him. ‘Park Ji-Sung Road’ is in Suwon, approximately 30 kilometres from Seoul.
The list of street names of famous players is seemingly endless, with Diego Maradona (Argentina), Ivan Zamorano (Chile), Hugo Sanchez (Mexico) and Mario Gomez (Germany) all lending their names to thoroughfares across the globe.
Players are not only glorified on public highways, however. Three slices of cheese, 600 grams of meat and generous helpings of onions and ham are the ingredients of a 30 Euro burger dubbed ‘Le Zlatan’ by a Parisian restauranteur in honour of Paris Saint-Germain star Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It is even possible to drink FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi after one of the most famous wineries in South America named a variety of wine after the forward. All profits from the drink, known as ‘Leo’, go towards the Leo Messi Foundation, which supports disadvantaged children and youths.
Whether it be a street name or a public space, a burger, statue, stadium or type of wine, footballers are immortalised the world over, from Brazil to Korea Republic and Spain. It is further evidence of the game’s power to transcend mere on-pitch action.
Next time you turn on to Park Ji-Sung Road, Spanish National Football Team Avenue or Avenida Jose Mourinho, take a moment to remember the people being honoured. After all, they have managed to do what many people only dream of: to leave a lasting mark in fans’ memories.